Tracy Edwards MBE has, this morning, announced a £38 million four-year sailing sponsorship deal with the Gulf State of Qatar

Tracy Edwards MBE has, this morning, announced a £38 million four-year sailing sponsorship deal with the Gulf State of Qatar to be known as Maiden Ocean Racing Qatar. In this, possibly the largest ever sailing sponsorship deal in the UK, Edwards not only secures funding for her own maxi cat challenge, which includes another attempt at the Jules Verne early next year, but ensures the entire financial backing for two new sailing events.

The first new event scheduled for January 2005, is the Oryx Cup – a non-stop, global race for giant multihulls starting and finishing in the UK with a US1million prize for the overall winner. Plus there’ll be a special prize for anyone breaking the Jules Verne.

The second, the Qatar Sports Global Challenge, open to ocean-going multihulls and monohulls over 100ft and 110ft respectively, will start from Doha in December 2006. And although this event will have a total of five stopovers including locations in the Far East and America and countries that haven’t necessarily been involved in ocean racing before, Edwards says she will announce the exact venues at the Schroder London Boat Show in January 2004.

Interestingly, and not surprisingly owing to the fact the event and announcement’s been kept under wraps until now, there are no other confirmed entries. Edwards did however, point out there was interest from other teams but couldn’t say who at this stage.

To encourage a decent entry, there’ll be free entry for the first year of the Qatar Sports Global Challenge. Edwards commented: “We’ve decided to waive the entry for the first year to give people time to find sponsorship and make it as easy as possible to enter.”

In addition to this race, in the build up to the Global Challenge, all participating yachts will take place in the first ever Suez Parade from the UK to Qatar, arriving in Doha at the beginning of December 2006, this will coincide with the staging of the 15th Asian Games which runs from 1-15 December.

While Edwards is first ensure her team gains as much credit for the programme as anyone, it is clear to see that it’s down to her sheer perseverance that this record-breaking sponsorship deal has come about. One of her assistants and someone who provided much guidance during sponsorship negotiations was HRH The Prince Andrew who, unable to attend today’s event, sent a letter of support saying: “I’ve known Tracy Edwards for several years and have witnessed many of her individual and team achievements in global sailing with growing sense of admiration. She epitomise the best of British sporting excellence with a spirit of adventure and determination to tackle the biggest of challenges… I wish them the very best in making it another mark in the history books and in putting Qatar in even higher profile on the world map.”

Responding to HRH The Prince Andrew’s comments Edwards said: “It’s been a very tough journey to get to this point and I can’t thank enough those people who have believed in me and helped to keep the dream alive. I have been visiting Qatar for six months now and I have fallen in love with the country…I am thrilled and excited about the future and hope that in some small way, this agreement between us and the people of Qatar will encourage renewed understanding between our nations. Today is a start of a journey for all of us at Team Maiden, the way ahead looks exciting, focussed and full of eastern promise.”

Meanwhile Edwards and team will be working full time over the next two months on Maiden II’s re-fit and re-branding. She’ll then be launched as ‘Qatar 2006’ ready to attempt the Jules Verne non-stop round the world record in January and then be taken to Doha. The crew line-up includes some of the world’s top ocean racer with eight men and eight women in the team including Brian Thompson (co-skipper), Paul Larsen, Fraser Brown, Miranda Merron, Kiny Parade, Helena Darvelid, Greg Holman, Stan Delbarre, Adrienne Cahalan and Herve Jan.